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A festival of lights

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Sometimes it takes a newcomer to break the ice.

That's what happened about 20 years ago when Rabbi Victor Urecki came to B'nai Jacob Synagogue. To his congregation's surprise, his family decorated the large front window of their East End home for Hanukkah.

Dr. Art Rubin jokes that some pent-up demand in him must have been unleashed, inspiring him to light up his home for the Jewish holiday after years of being surrounded by bright lights of his neighbors' Christmas decorations.

He, mostly, but also his wife, Missy, started collecting menorahs and dreidels.

Every year, after Thanksgiving dinner, he and his daughter Donna start sorting through the storage bins of menorahs and dreidels to decorate nearly every flat surface in the house on Colonial Way. They range from an expensive Baccarat crystal dreidel to a silly menorah hat that lights up.

A Hanukkah menorah is a nine-branch candleholder; if it has seven branches, it's a candelabrum.

Rubin explained that Hanukkah is not considered a major Jewish holiday. It celebrates the miracle of one day's supply of oil lasting eight days. The Hebrew tribe the Maccabees had retaken their temple in Jerusalem only to discover that there was enough oil to keep the everlasting candle above the altar burning for only 24 hours. A messenger was dispatched to find more oil. When he returned eight days later, the candle was still burning.

Called the Festival of Lights, Hanukkah is observed by the exchange of gifts and lighting of the menorah over an eight-day period, beginning this year at sundown Dec. 8 and continuing through the day of Dec. 16. Each day at sundown, the middle, or lead, candle is lighted and then one of the branch candles. Every evening another candle is added, going from right to left, the direction in which the Hebrew language is read.

Missy Rubin said she used to light most of the menorahs every night when the collection numbered fewer than 20. Now, that they've reached nearly 100, they only light the small brass menorah that sits on the kitchen windowsill.

The other dozens of menorahs are mostly grouped according to a theme or by material. Rubin jokes that the living room mantel has the bling -- colorful Murano glass candlesticks, glittery blue cup candleholders. Hanging in front of the gas log fireplace is a stained-glass panel that Rubin backlights with a blue light in the fireplace.

A three-tiered accent table is filled with various dreidels that their granddaughters, 9-year-old Danielle and 7-year-old Anna Carter, love to play with. Dreidels are similar to tops and are spun for games. On each side of the block is a Hebrew initial for "a great miracle happened here."

The top of one buffet in the dining room showcases Lenox and other cream-colored china used in Jewish ceremonies, such as the Kiddush wine cups and Seder plate. Another buffet holds menorahs made of metal, including a brass one that belonged to Missy Rubin's grandparents.

Rubin pointed to a small brass menorah, barely 6 inches tall. "I had that with me in college," Art Rubin said. "It holds those small birthday candles."

The fun, though, is in the family room with the silly and the whimsical.

For starters, there's the menorah attached to the cork of a wine bottle. Then there're the golf-themed menorahs, especially appropriate, as both Rubins are golfers. On top of the television cable box is a red fire engine with nine candle openings with firemen Mickey, Goofy and Donald hanging on, one several Disney menorahs.

The goofy-looking metal moose on the fireplace mantel was found at the old farmers market, where TerraSalis had a booth.

"I was looking for planters and saw this moose," Art Rubin said. "I looked at it and asked the guy there, 'Is this a menorah?' He said, 'A what?'"

A favorite is the menorah depicting a pediatrician's office. Art Rubin was a pediatrician in private practice for 27 years. He's now assistant dean with the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine.

The Rubins' collection has many sources -- gifts from friends, purchases at The Greenbrier, the Holocaust museum in Washington, D.C., gift shops in Florence and Paris, the shops on Bridge Road and from the synagogue's gift shop, where Art Rubin's sister, Ellen Slotnick, is the buyer.

They have tried to show some discipline with their acquisitions with an unwritten rule that for every new item purchased, one has to stay in the bin. Still, the collection grows.

"Art hides the menorahs he buys," according to Missy, who says she doesn't know about them until they appear next year.

The collection will stay out through New Year's, as will the outside decorations of a large inflatable menorah and the lights of blue and white, the colors of Israel.

When the Hanukkah paraphernalia is stored, the Rubin home returns to normal until the following fall, when they bring out first the Halloween decorations and then the trimmings for Thanksgiving.

"We have fire detection in the attic because of how much stuff we have stored up there," Missy Rubin said, laughing.

Reach Rosalie Earle at earle@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5115.


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